The Afghan Taliban launched their annual “spring offensive” Friday, heralding fresh fighting in the drawn-out conflict as embattled security forces struggle to recover from last week’s devastating attack on a military base outside the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Operation Mansouri — named after the group’s former leader, killed in a US drone strike in 2016 — will target foreign forces with “conventional attacks, guerrilla warfare, complex martyrdom attacks, insider attacks”, an insurgent statement said.
“The enemy will be targeted, harassed, killed or captured until they abandon their last posts,” the emailed statement of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid continued.
The spring offensive normally marks the start of the “fighting season”, though this winter the Taliban continued to battle government forces, most successfully in last week’s attack on the military base outside Mazar-i-Sharif.
The massacre last Friday saw insurgents armed with guns and suicide bombs slaughter at least 135 young recruits, according to the official toll, though multiple sources have claimed it is much higher.
It is believed to be the deadliest by the Taliban on an Afghan military target since they were driven from power in 2001, and marked yet another psychological blow by the resurgent militants.
According to US estimates, Afghan security forces, which have suffered thousands of casualties, control less than 60 percent of the country, although the insurgents have so far been unable to capture any major provincial centers.
In his statement, Mujahid boasted Taliban control over more than half of the country, referencing to a February report issued by Washington’s special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction.
On Thursday, the Pentagon and the US military said that two US troops were killed and one was wounded while fighting an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan near where Washington this month dropped the “Mother of All Bombs”.
US Forces-Afghanistan said the troops “came under attack during a raid against insurgents in Nangarhar province” late Wednesday.
The troops were working with partnered Afghan soldiers in the raid against ISIS Khorasan, a local offshoot of the jihadist group based in Iraq and Syria.
In mid-April, the US military earlier dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb it has ever used in combat, hitting ISIS positions in Nangarhar.
The deployment of the so-called Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB) killed at least 95 jihadists, according to the Afghan defense ministry, but fighting in the area has continued.